CHAPEL HILL — The guys who run The Barbecue Joint aren't afraid of innovation when tackling the problems of running a popular restaurant in a cramped space.
But the owners faced a more daunting issue when an investor pulled more than $50,000 intended for the restaurant's relocation. Without that money, the owners, Jonathan Childres and Damon Lapas, can't complete the restaurant's move into a bigger location, where renovations have already begun.
So they've turned to their customers. Anyone who purchases a gift card worth at least $1,000 will receive double his investment.
The return will come not in money but in food. The men hope at least 50 customers will bite.
With the economy in its rickety state, and banks apprehensive about lending money for restaurants even in good times, Childres thinks this approach could solve their problem.
"Everybody is scared to death," Childres said of potential large-scale investors. "With the uncertainty of the economy, everyone is being conservative."
The Barbecue Joint opened about seven years ago on Weaver Dairy Road. Since then, Childres and Lapas have had to prove their ingenuity on occasion. When they needed more storage room, they transformed the women's restroom into a unisex one and turned the men's restroom into a closet.
A year ago, the men started renovating the old location of Branch's Bookshop on South Elliott Road for their new restaurant. The new Barbecue Joint will have 101 seats, up from 36 in its present location.
Ribs and confit
Turning an old bookstore into a restaurant has not been cheap. Lapas estimated the project would cost about $350,000. They've also bought an $11,000 wood-fired grill that will be used to help expand the menu to include steaks and pork chops.
When a principal investor had to withdraw after his family business fell on hard times, the $50,000-plus loss put a big dent in the moving budget.
On March 10, an e-mail message outlining the gift card proposal was sent out to everyone on the restaurant's mailing list. The gift cards can be used for catering as well.
As soon as he heard about it, longtime customer Gordon DeFriese invested $2,000, which will yield $4,000 worth of food.
"I thought it was a nifty idea," said DeFriese, a retired professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. "I really wanted to help them."
DeFriese enjoys the fact that the restaurant's offerings stretch beyond the normal barbecue fare to include a duck confit salad, gumbo and banana cake.
Out of the water closet
"It's a full-service restaurant masquerading as a barbecue place," said DeFriese, who plans to have The Barbecue Joint cater his wife's birthday party in May.
Childres said he got the investment idea from the folks at The Top of the Hill restaurant in Chapel Hill, who devised a similar plan prior to the brewpub's opening.
He and Lapas declined to offer a scheduled opening date for their new restaurant. But if enough people take to the gift-card plan, maybe soon enough they'll be able to move that stuff out of the bathroom.
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